Beetroot is one of those vegetables that really seem to divide opinions, you either love it or you hate it. In our house we eat a lot of different soups but a bright purple beetroot soup is the only one we all love, so it gets made a lot. Beetroot is an incredibly versatile vegetable that works both as a savoury and as a sweet, it works raw in salads, roasted whole, fried to crisps, juiced and pickled in kimchi. However you use it, beetroot always adds a massive dose of colour to any plate. It’s available year round and we get through a lot of beetroot. So this month we have spent some time researching the health benefits, environmental issues and best way of using this amazingly colourful root.
The Food Of Love
Beetroot is part of the chard, spinach and samphire family. It was first cultivated over 2,000 years ago but people only ate the leafy tops. The ancient Greeks began using the roots for medicinal purposes and the ancient Romans considered the beetroot an aphrodisiac. This has recently been proven by modern science as beetroot contains large amounts of the mineral boron, which is thought to play a key role in the production of human sex hormones. It wasn’t until the 16th century that beetroot was bred to be the sweet bulbous root we now know. Beetroots come in different colours from white, golden, stripy to the most common deep purple. In the 18th Century during the Napoleonic war, the British enforced a trade embargo on to the French so they could no longer buy sugar canes from the Caribbean colonies. In response the French bred beetroot to maximise sugar content and developed a method of turning the ‘sugar beet’ into sugar granules. Today sugar beets account for 30% of all sugar production.
A typical beetroot is 9% sucrose, the highest sugar content of all vegetables. However the sugars release slowly into the bloodstream so beetroot has a high glycemic index but a very low glycemic load. Eating sweet vegetables like beetroot lower sugar cravings without the negative effects of refined sugars so it’s a good idea to add them to desserts and your diet in general.
Beetroot is high in fibre, vitamin C and minerals, particularly manganese. Manganese is an essential trace mineral which helps in blood sugar control, energy metabolism, and thyroid hormone function. The pigment that gives beetroot its rich deep colour is called Betalain, it is a powerful anti oxidant and anti-inflammatory. Beetroot also contains high levels of the essential macronutrient Choline that is part of the B complex vitamin. Choline helps with liver and brain functions, muscle movement and supporting energy levels.
Recent studies show that the high levels of nitrate in beetroot lower blood pressure and may also help to fight heart disease. The nitrates have also been shown to increase blood circulation to the brain, limiting the risks of dementia in old age. The nitrates also improve muscle oxygenation during exercise, which helps with muscle soreness and recovery. So treat yourself to a fresh beetroot juice after cardio exercise.
The Greenest of Vegetables
Beetroot is one of the most tolerant vegetables that requires very little fertilisers and pesticides making it one of the most environmentally friendly vegetables you can buy. It is planted from seeds from March onwards and can be harvested from June to November. If stored well in the ground, beetroot will keep until spring. Once it is out of the ground it keeps for 2 to 3 weeks before turning soft. It’s best to store in the cold dark place or in the fridge. In season, fresh beetroot tops are delicious and can be used exactly like chard and spinach, however if you are not going to eat the green tops it is best to cut them off from the roots as they absorb the moisture from the root and make them go soft.
The beetroot plants thrive in a wide variety of climates and soils, making it particularly popular in the cold climates of Eastern Europe, Russia and Scandinavia. Badj has just been on a music tour of Eastern Europe and Russia and everywhere he went they had the beetroot soup called ‘borscht’. There are as many variations on the borscht recipe as there are families in Eastern Europe. Our favourite and the one we make most often is based on a traditional recipe from our Romanian friend Nicoleta. The acidity of the fresh tomatoes counters the sweetness and the lemon zest elevates the earthy flavours of the beetroot. A dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche to serve is a must and in Russia and the Ukraine it would always get a sprinkle of dill.
We hope you have enjoyed the article and try the recipe, please leave a comment we really appreciate your feedback.
4 x Beetroots (approx 600g)
2 x Carrots (approx 300g)
3 x Fresh Tomatoes
1 x Medium White Onion
2 x Celery Sticks
1 x tsp Lemon Zest
Fresh dill to garnish
Peel and chop all the vegetables and place them all in a pan with the lemon zest. Cover with homemade vegetable stock and season well. Cover the pan and simmer for 45 min or until all the vegetables are cooked. Blend and check for seasoning. Serve hot with a dollop of creme fraiche and the Russians and Ukrainians would definitely put a healthy sprinkle of fresh dill..